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Rural Alaska

Arts organization to give Kivalina $500,000 grant for relocation

  • Author: Jillian Rogers
  • Updated: May 31, 2016
  • Published July 26, 2015

While Kivalina's road to relocation might seem like a long one, plagued with road blocks and detours, there are many, in the community and beyond, who just keep on driving.

Michael Gerace and the Re-Locate organization have been working to support Kivalina's community-wide effort to move for years, and recently got a $500,000 boost to help with planning through a variety of ventures.

With each passing season in the coastal village, sea ice moves in later and later, allowing winter storms to pummel Kivalina's coastline, eroding it more each year. Kivalina is one of several Alaska communities facing the risks of accelerated coastal erosion, among other climate change effects.

The latest financial aid comes in the form of a grant from ArtPlace America. Re-Locate was one of 38 recipients among 1,300 applicants. ArtPlace is one of the nation's largest philanthropies dedicated to creative place making, with Three Degrees Warmer, a nonprofit climate justice organization, serving as Re-Locate's fiscal sponsor for this particular award.

The money will be used to integrate arts and culture into the field of community planning and development, according to ArtPlace. And ArtPlace is just one of many backers, financial or otherwise, supporting Re-Locate, a collective that includes local, national and international devotees working toward the village's cause on several different ongoing projects.

"We're feeling very grateful," Gerace said of the latest grant.

The many projects that are happening or about to happen in Kivalina as part of Re-Locate will be housed inside the Kivalina Community Center, which the project is altering to become the Center for Kivalina Relocation Planning and Global Responsibility for Climate Displacement, Gerace said.

"Within that space, over the next year, we're going to be curating three summits and those summits will involve people from all over Alaska and also from all over the world," he said.

While the agenda has not been set, Gerace said he hopes that leaders from other displaced villages will attend one of the summits to share their experiences and concerns.

The recent grant will fund projects including a living archive, large-scale models, drawings and maps; immersed artist residences; plans for water and sanitation technology designs; and a village-based intranet system for local communication, among others.

The digital and physical models will be used to compare with archival information and historical land boundaries and subsistence use areas. Those maps and models will be available on the local network.

Residents will have the dominant voice in these projects and community meetings and gatherings will continue so locals can share ideas and concerns around this massive undertaking.

With relocation as the final objective, these smaller projects act as stepping stones along the way and involve a collective of artist, state, corporate, nongovernmental, and international partners "that recognize and support community-led strategies for village expansion," Gerace said.

For Kivalina IRA President Millie Hawley, this series of projects is a process that "belongs to the people of Kivalina," she said in a statement.

"We'll visualize where we're at, where we can be, and how we can move in that direction. There are 229 tribes in Alaska. Five villages have the same climate change issues, some worse than ours. If you do this project in Kivalina, you do this work for them. They would all benefit from this in their villages."

Projects like these empower local residents to get involved and make important decisions, added Colleen Swan, a local city councilperson.

The Re-Locate project has been working with Kivalina for several years with Gerace traveling to the village several times a year for weeks at a time.

Working with engineers, policymakers, sanitation experts, lawyers as well as local residents -- who are impacted every day by climate change -- helps break down barriers and get real work done every day, Gerace said.

"When you get all those people together while eroding the edges of who I am and who you are, we might be able to develop the voluntary partnerships and recognition needed for action," he said. "We're dealing with a global issue that is being addressed locally and regionally."

Incorporated in the grant-funded projects are a host of activities that will include Elders sharing traditional knowledge and activities with local youth as well as experts from Outside who will visit the community.

"Projects like these demonstrate how imaginative and committed people are when it comes to enhancing their communities with creative interventions and thoughtful practices," said ArtPlace Executive Director Jamie L. Bennett in a release.

To learn more about the grant and projects visit www.relocate-ak.org or www.artplaceamerica.org.

This story first appeared in The Arctic Sounder and is republished here with permission.

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